Scatterbrained

There is at once so much and so little going on with WoW these days that I am finding it challenging to come up with topics for this blog. The “so much going on” is all quite a ways out yet, and the stuff we are dealing with in Legion now is unfortunately in the “so little going on” bucket. Thus, some extremely scattered thoughts I had over the weekend.

User interfaces. I know I will get some blowback on this, but in my opinion Blizz pretty much stinks at user interfaces in the game. They seem to be easily satisfied with the kind of interface only an elderly software engineer could love — clunky and non-intuitive but adequate to get at the guts of the game. Over the years, I will admit, they have tended to improve some of the more egregious clunkers, but there are a lot left.

Take the bag structure. It used to resemble my Aunt Dorothy’s huge purse — stuffed with everything she had accumulated over years, and none of it could be found without a lot of rummaging. Then a few years ago, Blizz gave us the “organizer” option for bags. That is a laugh. Honestly, I have never been able to figure out what principle they use to determine what item is in what category, you only get the categories Blizz wants to give you, there is no reasonable solution for overflow items, and you are stuck with Blizz’s idea of what “tidy” means if you decide to tidy them up. It is so lousy that they had to amend it a while back and add a feature that made recently-added items glow. Not a bad feature, I will grant you, but it is fickle and annoying if you have looked in your bag to find the new loot you just got, then close it to offer the item up for raffle — when you open the bag again to find the item for trade, it has suddenly lost its glow and you are left to search for it for a long time while the raid leaves both you and your recipient far behind.

Part of why Blizz is so lazy with their interfaces, I think, is because they have the luxury of a large community of addon writers that willingly fix the slipshod Blizz work. For years now, I have used an addon called ArkInventory for my bags (there are several good ones out there), and it has become one of the ones I almost cannot live without, right up there alongside WeakAuras and Bartender 4. It allows me to set up my own categories along with Blizz’s, it lets me see what category Blizz thinks an item is in, and if I don’t like  it I can redesignate the item’s category to another one of theirs or to one I have made up. I can also see my bag as one gigantic storage area and designate areas for each category. (Can apply this to your bank as well, and even to a guild bank if you want because it does not affect the actual way items are stored just how they appear to you.) Each area has a title, for example, “Food”, “Cooking mats”, “Pet Shit”, “Other spec gear”, even a separate one for “Trinkets” so I can easily see the ones I have. I also keep all my legendaries in a separate bin to rapidly sift through them, along with something I call “Gear I Need” to keep the various pieces I rotate as I change out tier and legendaries.

Yeah, the OCD organizer in me loves this app. Blizz could give us the same thing — clearly the capability is there in the code — but they don’t have to make an elegant interface because someone else does it for them.

Another trauma overcome. Many years ago, when I rolled my druid, I decided she would be primarily a healer. I was drawn to the idea that druids can fulfill any role in the game, including either ranged or melee damage dealers. I was about level 60 or 62 when I attempted to heal my first pug dungeon. (Drak’Tharon Keep) I really had zero idea what I was doing, but hey I had healed myself while leveling, puttered around in a couple battlegrounds, and even thrown a few heals at some players who happened to be on the same quest I was on out in the world. How hard could it be?

HAHAHA. It was a disaster. We wiped on the first set of trash in that long hall, and I was immediately kicked, but not before everyone had thrown some well-deserved insults at me. I had failed to grasp the HoT concept for druid healing, thought when someone got low on health I could throw out a heal and be good. These days I laugh at such experiences, but back then I took them very seriously, so seriously in fact that I did not attempt druid healing again for years. When I did, I took care to always be in a raid with other healers, so that I would not have sole responsibility for the group’s survival. Even as I became proficient at druid healing, the 5-man phobia remained.

Until last night. I took a deep breath and queued as a healer for a Timewalker dungeon. My hands were clammy, my heart rate was through the roof, and I was laser focused on every tiny health point for everyone.

Pfffffft. It was a piece of cake. I got through five of them easily. I don’t know what I was worried about. In fact, TW dungeons are so easy to heal I found I had a lot of time for dealing some of my puny damage as well. Another huge dragon built up in my mind was in fact a tiny cute kitty… 😂

LFR. (A never-ending source of blog material) I ran a few LFRs over the weekend, on my void elf mage and my druid. These things really are a study in psychology. In fact, there is someone in my guild who has 12-14 alts and actually loves running LFR on them every week. She is fascinated by the various group dynamics she encounters. Yeah, I know, right, go figure… I am pretty sure I could never go to that extreme on LFR, but it is still interesting to me how vastly different the group experience can be every time. One time you can get a sober, mature group that is helpful to newbies and very patient, and the next group can be toxic and completely dysfunctional.

The LFR queue process, though, is another example of a user interface that Blizz could really stand to improve. I understand it is not simple to do, but there are some really annoying things about it. The one over the weekend that annoyed me was the idea that you can be put into a group in the middle of a raid wing, maybe even for just the last boss in that wing. I understand this has to happen because of course players will drop out at any point in the raid and they need to be backfilled. It is frustrating to have waited for 10-15 minutes to get into a raid, only to only have a shot at the last boss and then get to queue all over again for the same wing. Once recently, that happened to me, and when I requeued I got put into a raid that was on the second of the 3 bosses, so I got to requeue yet one more time! At the very least, Blizz could put you at the head of the queue if that happens to you, and maybe even do some sort of check to make sure you get in on the first boss if you have to requeue.

Last, in what may be the least exciting news lately, Blizzcon 2018 tickets are going on sale shortly. (Yawn) For WoW players, this year’s event is likely to be a real snoozer, since BfA will have already launched months before. I suppose it may come at a handy time to hype the first BfA patch — and possibly a new raid tier — but that is about it. There are a few rumors that there may be an announcement of a Warcraft III remaster, but otherwise the focus will likely be on other Blizz IPs. The virtual tickets will go on sale later this summer, but I think the only way I will be interested is if there is significant inducement in the form of a really cool mount or something (like they did for Blizzcon 2017).

That’s it for this rather boring Monday.

Main planning

With the formal announcement that Battle for Azeroth will launch August 14, those of us who are compulsive organizers can now kick our planning up a notch. More than 4 months is not exactly what I would call “imminent”, but still it is good to have an actual target date.

The date is about 6 weeks earlier than the “not later than” date we saw in the promos during Blizzcon. I don’t know of any other titles due to launch in that same general time frame, so I don’t think the date is calculated to be a competitive market thing. And I hope it is not a marketing-driven deadline that corporate has imposed on the WoW team just to be able to say they hit their intended expansion schedule — pushing the envelope such that there is not enough slack time built in to allow for unforeseen glitches. Most likely, though, is that Blizzard is pretty confident the expansion is far enough along that the mid-August date will be no problem. Also, the release date occurs before most colleges and universities start the fall term, so possibly Blizzard is taking that into account as a way to engage this key group of players at the start rather than have them have to wait until things settle down a bit before they have a chance to play, and then feeling they are playing catch-up.

Still, as I pointed out back when the exclusive alpha started, this somewhat earlier launch date means many parts of the expansion — certainly class changes — are pretty well set in stone. (Maybe that is why Blizzard also forbade any class development questions in the recent dev discussion at Pax East — they have zero intention of making any more significant changes in classes at this point.)

As far as I am concerned, this is bad news for BM hunters, who have received almost no love now for years. Almost the sole change Blizzard has graciously deigned to make for BM hunters is a questionable revamp of pet abilities (which applies to all hunters, btw, not just the BM spec). It seems like they are tossing us a crumb — a rather stale and distasteful one at that — and basically telling us to sit the fuck down now and shut up, that is all we are getting, quit pestering. I said early on in the alpha that I had an uncomfortable feeling about hunters, given the significant number of announced MM and SV changes but the silence on BM, and I think I hit that one dead on. I can only surmise from what I read, of course, since it seems every player but me has gotten an invite to try it out, but this looks very much like what Blizzard did to us in the run up to Legion — the silent treatment as a response to bonafide concerns, reports, and requests for information.

The best writing out there currently on trends for hunters in BfA is coming from Bendak over at Eyes of the Beast, and I encourage anyone interested in the subject to check out his latest post. The bottom line is that both MM and SV are getting some much-needed and significant reworks, but BM is once again left out of the loop. It’s as if Blizzard hates the spec, wishes they could delete it, but instead will just make it so unpleasant, powerless, and boring that no one will want to play it. (This was their tactic back in WoD when they abandoned SV as too hard to deal with…)

Thus, a big part of my BfA planning will revolve around what to play as a main. Although it pains me to consider it, at this point I am still not sure that continuing as a hunter is in the cards for me. I feel like Blizz has dumped on me twice — first they destroyed my SV spec that I had lived and played for years, and now they seem in the process of also destroying the spec I switched to.

I will give both SV and MM a try, I suppose, but something in me just recoils at the idea of having to choose between being a hunter without a pet or one that is a melee spec. (Yes, even though Blizz has added a lot of ranged abilities to SV, its most potent shot is still a melee one.)

I have been having quite a lot of fun with my mages and my druid lately, so I suppose both of those would be candidates for a BfA main. And I have always had an attachment to my mistweaver healer, even though I have not paid much attention to her in Legion. (The main objection I have to maining a monk is that leveling and questing is most efficient with an off spec of windwalker, a melee spec…)

Fun is certainly one factor in my choice, but I would be a liar if I didn’t admit that relative power will be another. I enjoy raiding with my guild, and even though there is no pressure to tailor the team with “the right” classes and specs, still I feel it would be irresponsible to force a weak spec on the team. It is unfortunate but true that Blizz has in recent years not cared too much that each expansion brings clear winners and losers in terms of class/spec balances. Oh sure, they tweak a bit here and there as the expansion goes on, but they have become disturbingly comfortable with a fairly wide spread of results among the classes, as if it is too hard to compress the gap so if you happen to main a loser class, oh well sucks to be you…

What I am looking for in BfA is a class and spec that is reasonably powerful (upper-middle in the charts would be fine) and is a real rush to play. I stuck with BM in Legion, but honestly it was always sub-par in terms of performance and it never gave me the “whee!” rush many other classes have. I liked it because of the mobility and because I have an attachment to my spirit pets, and because I very strongly identify with my ideal of the hunter persona (mine, not Blizz’s) in the game. But the play style is just one long grind of grimly mashing short cooldowns as soon as they became available, with a very slight calculation of when to delay one or another of them for optimization. The combat animations stink (despite Blizz at one point “improving” Cobra Shot to make it wiggle more, oh what a wild and crazy change that was 🙄), there is no chance of getting any sort of exciting proc, the player has no control over focus generation, and there is no significant burst ability.

Just.

Mash.

Buttons.

On.

Time.

zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

So far, it seems none of this will change in BfA. In fact, Blizz is actually removing one button, the artifact weapon ability, and not replacing it with anything. And the pet changes may have the effect of limiting my choice of pets to whichever one provides a missing raid utility. (And even this consideration is not very significant since Blizz has removed combat rez as one of the options.) One pleasing aspect of Legion I have enjoyed is running raids with Gara almost all the time — I have a preference for wolf pets, I like the current additional spirit beast effects, and I really like the Gara rendering. I will most definintely not like it if even this one small player choice is slightly curtailed in BfA.

So, yeah. Almost everything is on the table for selecting a main for BfA. I hope I can come to terms with — and find actual fun in — one of the hunter specs, but if not, then maybe it is time to move on to another class.

Still, it would break my heart.

Possibly a weekend and some beer will help shape my thinking. See you on the other side.

I am a game snob

With our guild raiding season over, my main hunter as geared as I care for her to be, alts mainly in end game status, and basically Legion on its way to the trash bin, I have been looking at some other MMOs to play as a diversion. (And to have a Plan B in the unlikely event WoW goes to that great bitbucket in the sky any time soon.) But I have not had much luck finding anything to hold my interest.

Here are the ones I have tried so far:

  • Final Fantasy (XIV)
  • Elder Scrolls Online
  • Wildstar
  • Lord of the Rings Online

Up front, I should say that I have not played any of them long enough to get much past the very early stages of character leveling, so that certainly colors my opinion. But also each of them has had some major (in my view) shortcoming that caused me to be unmotivated to stick with them to get to a later stage. The process has been interesting, insofar as it has allowed me to identify many of the factors that are important to me in a game.

First person shooter (which none of the above are). I simply cannot play FPS games, they feel claustrophobic to me. I am not sure why that is, but I think it has something to do with the technical interpretation of that point of view. Of course, we all go through real life with a first person view of the world, and nobody (well almost nobody) complains about that. But RL first person seems vastly different from MMO first person. I think it has something to do with the idea that in RL you have full body awareness — you can glance down and easily see your feet, you see your shoulders in your peripheral vision, you can at any time quickly glance at your hands, knees, arms, etc., and they are almost always more or less in your field of view even if you are not looking directly at them. But in FPS games, it is like you are trapped behind your eyes, kind of a disembodied floating presence above a weapon, unable to get any sense of anything but your immediate surroundings. To me, this is an impossible proposition.

This phenomenon is a known problem with FPS games, I should point out. Some companies are working on improving the experience. Until rather recently, technology dictated the way FPS had to be presented to the player, since any kind of dynamic full body awareness would be a killer to decent frame rates. As technology improves, though, we may start to see some progress in the FPS experience.

Artwork. Where to start with this one? Maybe scenery. I have concluded that I do not like scenery that is either too realistic or too cartoonish. I like it to be detailed, but if it actually looks like something I could see out of my window or on vacation to the mountains, it puts me off. On the other hand, if it looks like it came straight out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, I can’t deal with it either.

The stuff that is too realistic gives me a disconnected feeling. In my mind, I know I am indulging in a fantasy world, and to be continually surrounded by what looks like a real world environment is just too jarring to me. On the opposite end of the spectrum, I want to have an immersive experience, so the scenery has to be believable in the context of the game.

I have said before that I think Blizz’s artwork is the best around, and I stand by that statement. To me, it strikes exactly the correct Goldilocks point in terms of believability and fantasy. Most of that is due to the extreme detail in it — insects and small animals, water motion in rivers and oceans, rain/snow and clouds (including thunderstorms) from time to time, shifting blowing sands in desert areas along with wind sounds, and so forth. Yes, the flora in an area may tend towards pinks and purples instead of chlorophyll-based green, but Blizz has always made it believable with the detail you would expect if it were actually real.

None of the other games I have tried so far comes even close to this standard.

The other aspect of artwork is in character representation. Here again I am persnickety about striking a pleasing balance between too-real and too-cartoonish.  As with scenery, I do not want a character that looks like someone I could see walking down any street. I do not want to see realistic 5 o’clock shadow, grease stains on clothing and face, sweat, etc. Games are fantasies, and in my fantasies, these things are not welcome.

On the other hand, I do not want to see characters that look like Elmer Fudd. Also, I am not a fan of the anime cartoon style, and I think many MMOs use it far too frequently. Maybe it is my Western bias, but I just cannot identify with an anime avatar. When I play games that use this style, I feel disconnected from my character, as if it is a chess piece I am pushing around rather than some sort of fantasy personification. Again, to me this is where WoW strikes a good balance. I know there is a school of thought that WoW veers too far into cartoon land, but I don’t see that — to me it works.

Payment method. I’ve discovered this is more important to me than I thought it would be. I have always done the monthly or annual subscription in WoW, and it works well for me. I have never done game cards or bought the tokens, because when I want to play the game I want to play, not worry about how many days or minutes I might have before I have to find a way to add more time. I realize this is a privilege I enjoy because the $15 a month is no big deal for me, and for a lot of people it is an obstacle, so of course personal economic situation plays a role in what kind of game fee structure you prefer.

But I find I really dislike the games that offer you actual game advancement (gear, mounts or mount training, profession boosts, whatever) for real money outside the game. This is the usual “free-to-play” plan. I dislike it not so much for the money involved (it probably works out to the same as or less than the $15 a month I spend on WoW), as for the disruption in my fantasy. If I have to stop playing, go to some online store and hand over a credit card to continue playing with appropriate gear or talents or whatever, it just kind of destroys my whole mental illusion.

Also, I think there is a principle involved, one that Blizz has espoused for some time now, namely that success in the game should not depend on how deep your pockets are but on how well you compete. For the most part, they have held firm on this, and I hope they continue to do so. The one aberration, in my opinion, was the introduction of the WoW token, because in a sense people who buy the token to sell it for in-game gold in the auction house are paying real money for the advantage of being rich enough in game to afford anything they want. Still, I understand why Blizz did it — in addition to generating revenue it also greatly curtailed the influx of illicit gold sellers in the game. Luckily, thus far it has not been a slippery slope, and with the sole exception of the token everything you can buy in the Blizz store for WoW is cosmetic rather than imparting a game advantage.

Technology. Blizz has had its share of tech failures and challenges — server crashes, system overloads, DDoS attacks, extreme sharding, sporadic lag times, annoying disconnects, login queues, what have you — but for the most part if you have an adequate computer the game runs smoothly. That seems not to be true for some of the other games I have tried (LOTRO being the prime example) — they seem not to have allocated sufficient infrastructure to keep pace with the game’s technological demands. I like LOTRO the best of all the above games I tried, but I finally gave up when, night after night for two weeks, the game would slow to a jerky start-and-stop state such that movement became a slide show rather than an animation. It was fine during off-peak hours, but as soon as a player load came on it was miserable.

Anyway, none of the MMOs I have tried so far comes close to meeting my admittedly picky preferences. I am not done, there are a lot more to try (even with my Mac handicap). But my experiments so far have made me appreciate the continuing genius of WoW.

It’s refreshing to remind myself of that once in a while.

Assholes and idiots

So over the weekend I tried to run a few alts through Antorus the Burning Throne LFR. Okay, I know I was pretty much asking for it by running LFR at the end of the week, but holy guacamole what a loony bin it was. Every time. All I wanted was some gear and AP, maybe some essences for legendary purchase.

Every group was like a remake of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. People running around with no clue how to kill a boss, tanks rage quitting, people yelling in caps at dps below a million, kick votes every few minutes, people afk apparently on purpose, people begging for every piece of gear that dropped even if they were equipped with better stuff, some people trying to explain fights and getting yelled at for it, and trolls all over the place spreading debuffs and pulling early.

I don’t mind when there are people in LFR who do not know the fights, as long as they speak up and say so. I am happy to throw out some quick instructions like “kill adds over boss, stack on purple circles, spread on orange, stand in green, and avoid the flame that comes out of his claw hand” — I mean, that’s really all damage dealers need to know for Kin’garoth. I am even happy to type out instructions for the add groups coming up in Coven — “Get out of middle!” or “Slow/trap adds in corners” etc. And if we wipe once or twice just because it’s a lot to remember and some people just haven’t got the hang of it yet, no big deal. It’s LFR after all.

But what really trips my mad trigger is when there is an asshole in the group purposely causing wipes and killing people. For example, someone deliberately running around tagging people with the one-shot flame debuff in the trash leading to the Burning Throne. We actually had someone doing that yesterday in a group I was in. Luckily, I was healing and also for some reason the only one with a mass rez ability. I tried to get said asshole kicked, but no one was interested enough to follow through, so when we got to the bosses, I simply put him on focus and gave him no heals. To my surprise and delight, no other healers seemed to be very interested in him either, and he died quickly every time. Then after we either wiped or killed a boss, I methodically rezzed everyone individually instead of casting mass rez. He was the only one who had to run back a few times, and we didn’t always wait for him. He was pissed and called me out on it, so I explained gosh I thought he loved dying because he was so keen on causing it, dear me did I misinterpret his actions? He thought it was funny when he was causing it, why was he not amused now?

I’ve written about this before, but for the life of me I just cannot understand why some people do this kind of thing. Why join a raid if you have no interest in doing anything but deliberately screwing it up? I just do not see the attraction in spoiling the game for others. Blizz needs a “group troll” category for reporting these asswipes. LFR is challenging enough usually, without jerks adding to it.

Anyway, like I said, it was a very bad weekend for LFR. All I can think of is the little kids were bored already from spring break and decided to be bratty in WoW. (Trade chat was also worse than usual, so I am assuming the children were all showing off the naughty words they know, always a surefire way to impress others with how grown up you are… Pretty sure lots of them got reported.) Or maybe it was the full moon that brought out the trolls. Whatever, it was not enjoyable.

So much for the “assholes” portion of the post, now on to the “idiots” section.

Another phenomenon I just cannot wrap my head around in WoW is the selling of crafted profession items at prices below — sometimes far, far below — the cost of the mats to make them. And I am not just talking about mats someone can gather — more about that in a bit — I am also talking about mats that have to be purchased at significant cost from a vendor, like the ones for the engineer-made chopper.

I suppose a certain number of these bargain basement items are part of cheating scams — illegal digital clones or being fenced from stolen accounts. There are also a  few items (mostly gems and enchants) sold this way in order to drive competitors out of the market. But there are a huge number of these items coming from people apparently too stupid to understand the concept of profit. They think, for example, that if they spend 6 hours gathering herbs and other mats to craft something, that those mats are “free” and if they sell the item at a few hundred gold, that is clear profit.

I get that WoW is basically a way to waste time, so I suppose there is a certain amount of logic in the idea that your time in game is worthless. But the people who do a lot of time-consuming gathering are not smart enough to see they could actually make more gold by selling the raw mats than by crafting them into an end item. Or maybe they just don’t care about gold and can’t be bothered to do anything other than dump goods as quickly as possible.

But here’s the thing. Constantly underselling items undermines the entire profession system. Even if you yourself don’t give a rat’s ass about profits, there is a significant portion of the player base that does care, for whom professions are the most engaging part of the game. Players who vastly undervalue the market price for their goods are no better than the wipe trolls in LFR. The fact that they may do it out of ignorance or stupidity instead of malice does not change the result: deliberately ruining the game for others.

Early in every expansion there are clear profession winners and losers, and the winners’ products are often sold at outrageous prices. I am not a fan of this, either, but at least that phenomenon is a textbook example of the law of supply and demand. It is true that as the expansion goes on there will be greater supplies of items and for some things (like gear) possibly less demand, a situation that will inevitably result in lower prices and lower profit margins for sellers. But deliberately dumping goods on the market at a net loss is detrimental to the entire system, akin to real world dumping practices. It skews the profession system, and it makes that part of the game less enjoyable for many.

I have no idea how the macro WoW economy works. Blizz would have us believe it is simple market forces, but they have never been shy about putting their thumb on the scale if they think it necessary. Almost certainly, they try to regulate it to one degree or another. They have stated that in BfA they will try to make crafted items relevant for a longer period than they did in Legion (where crafted gear was worthless almost as soon as it could be made). If they are serious about this goal, they will have to implement some mechanism to seriously discourage selling at a net loss. I don’t know what such a mechanism would be, but if they do not do it then anything else they do to extend the relevance of crafted items will fail.

So yeah. Assholes and idiots. Quite a weekend.

Battle for Azeroth: Legion transmog?

Admin note: I will be taking next week off as a short spring break. I will return to this space on Monday, April 2.

Maybe it is just a reflection of the long dragged-out winter we are having, but most of the things I read about Battle for Azeroth seem depressing. (WARNING, RANT FOLLOWS) And of course reading about it is all I can do, because, no I do not have an Alpha invite, and I am getting to the point where I am suspecting many of them are not in fact random, that there is some sort of Santa good list and bad list as well — the good little children (streamers, friends of Blizz, bloggers who fall all over themselves to flatter Blizz, world-first mythic raiding guilds, etc.) always get early invites, and the bad children (me, for example) get flagged as not only no but hell no. Even if I were to come up on a random invite, the bad list kicks in and the invite would get pulled. There is a slim chance I may get an invite eventually, but if so it will likely be like the one I got for Legion: approximately one week before the PTR went live. Oh yeah, plenty of chances to influence changes at that point…

Yeah, OK, that is probably not the case, but it is difficult to not feel that way. (END OF RANT)

Anyway, back to my point, which is that there really is nothing I have read about BfA so far that comes close to generating excitement for me, other than the obvious fact that it is a new expansion and as such will at least give us different scenery that we have had for a couple of years.

Yes, there are some interesting aspects to it, I am not prejudging it to be lousy out of the box, but there is just nothing that makes me feel like doing one of those beautiful little whole-body grins you get from a six-year-old anticipating Christmas.

Battle for Azeroth seems to me to be nothing more than Legion with a different transmog. Some examples follow.

Instead of artifact weapons, we will have 3 pieces of artifact gear (okay, they call them something else, but artifacts they in fact are). Each piece has its own trait tree, and we will have to grind artifact power Azerite in order to unlock them and make them more powerful. Mark my words, the trait trees for this gear will expand throughout BfA, making any sort of end state virtually unattainable, the same as Legion artifacts, the never-ending carrot dangle revisited.

Professions change only insofar as now we will be allowed to pursue them by expansion group, eliminating the need to go back and do legacy crafting and gathering unless we just want to. This is a good move, but it in no way changes the Legion approach that will require end-game gearing to pursue profession quests in raids, heroic and mythic dungeons, and sheer RNG grinding. The terrible “levels within a level” recipe mechanic also remains.

As an added requirement to have all your profession players at end game level (character and gear), there will once again be a BoP crafting mat. This seems at odds with Blizz’s promise to make crafted gear relevant for more of the expansion, but we will see. Generally speaking, for the first several months in an expansion, only your main is powerful enough to gather such mats in sufficient quantities to make relevant gear, so if you are one of the profession lottery winners with your main you are in good shape (think alchemists in Legion), otherwise (like for example leather makers in Legion) forget it.

Invasions are replaced by Islands and Warfronts. Oh, and Islands will feature AI-driven NPCs, basically a variation on current affixes in M+ dungeons.

Speaking of Mythic dungeons, there will be a doubling down on this esports-friendly activity, with things like affixes being forced on even lower level players doing, say, a M+2 mythic. There will be new “kiss/curse” affixes introduced for M+10 and above, and there is something called “keystone customization” in the works that smells suspiciously like something to make life easier for the M+ pros. Regular mythic dungeons, meanwhile, become relegated to the common pile that includes normal and heroic, but with the added annoyance of having to find a group on your own instead of becoming part of the automatic group finder system.

Mission table and followers will remain, for no reason I can see other than to serve as a justification for Blizz to keep the mobile app, and cause players to log in more often and thus buff up MAU metrics.

Hunter class changes — this is possibly the most depressing of all to me. Again, I only know what I read or watch (see rant above), but from my point of view, Blizz is making no real changes to the fundamental destruction of the hunter class they perpetrated in Legion.

What do I mean by this? Consider the defining factors for the hunter class prior to Legion: highly mobile ranged physical damage dealers with an integral pet. Now consider what happened to the class in Legion. Basically, these defining factors were broken up and reallocated piecemeal to hunter specs. SV lost the “ranged” aspect. MM lost the “pet” and the “highly mobile” aspects. Only BM retained all of the defining aspects, but at significant cost in terms of play style and raw damage numbers. And even for BM, the “highly mobile” and “ranged” aspects were only applied to the hunter, not to the pet, which incidentally constituted most of the BM hunter’s even mediocre damage numbers.

None of this changes significantly in BfA. The touted “rangification” of SV hunters is pretty hollow when you consider that the spec will still derive its most potent damage from its one remaining melee shot, Raptor Strike. I do not play MM and have not studied the proposed changes for it, but it seems like they will remain limited mobility. I have read a few opinions that other MM changes make the spec less interesting to play, although to be fair some others think there is some additional fun that might be added with the right selection of talents.

The worst insult, though, in my opinion, is to BM hunters. BfA will introduce a somewhat new pet damage/buff system that seems to take some of the worst pet changes from each of the past couple of expansions. And other than switching out a few utilities, that is pretty much the extent of what Blizz considers BM hunter changes. Oh, yes, plus Blizz will remove the BM artifact abilities — mainly Hati’s bond and Titan’s Thunder — and as far as I can tell will replace that damage power with nothing. This is unlike they are doing for some other classes, which will have certain artifact abilities baked in to the BfA baseline.

Though it is hard to tell which power nerfs are actual nerfs and which ones are merely part of the stat squish, some things do stand out as genuine nerfs. For example, the speed buff from Posthaste will be cut to less speed and less time, a curious decision for the one remaining highly mobile ranged spec in the game. Other changes, such as increased focus costs for some shots (while still refusing to incorporate a focus generator as baseline) are harder to evaluate without actually giving them a try.

But all in all, Blizz has done absolutely nothing — nothing — to change the bland BM play style, nor do they seem to have any intention whatsoever of doing so. Quite the contrary, they have almost come out and said they consider the spec to be an “entry level” spec, a phrase that almost shouts “not for serious players”, “for wittle kids who wike fluffy cute pets”… 😡

Yes. I am insulted. And I am not alone in this. I am not so naive as to think Blizz will suddenly back off of their revamp of SV as melee and MM as a turret, but for crying out loud, do they have to keep stomping BM into the ground just because we still retain the full essence of the hunter class? If they hate the spec so much, just delete it and have done with it, quit doing passive-aggressive nerfs that make it more and more undesirable to play.

A couple of months ago, when the first changes to SV and MM were announced, many observers counseled to just wait, because it was early and certainly there would also be some significant changes to BM forthcoming.

Nope. This is exactly the Legion alpha being rerun. BM hunters will be totally ignored, despite significant and well-thought out comments in the alpha forum. Again. A starting bad place for them will be enshrined in the live version, possibly followed by a “concerned” CM in the forums asking for “feedback” on the surprising news that there are problems with the spec. Followed by an entire expansion of the spec mired not only in mediocrity for damage, but also in play style. Another entire expansion of grim, boring button mashing with little or no opportunity for player rotation choices, and certainly no possibility of fun in the form of “whee!” moments when procs coincide or when we can unleash a ton of burst damage.

And no one at Blizz gives a damn, because no one at Blizz loves hunters the way some of them love mages or DKs or almost any other spec.

I know there are plenty of hunters who will say BfA is making significant changes to the class, and of course they are welcome to that opinion. But I am sticking by my assessment that there will be no fundamental changes to the destruction inflicted on the class starting in Legion. If anything, Blizz is — once again — doubling down on it.

I am depressed at the prospect of BfA being a rerun of Legion, but I am positively disgusted by Blizz’s continuing disrespect for hunters.

It is time for a weekend to start. Where’s my beer?

Looking towards summer

Now that it is officially spring, and the birds are tweeting and the trees are budding and the flowers are blooming and we are in the middle of another freaking snow storm (🤬), it’s time to start thinking about how I will spend my summer in WoW.

Snow, spring 2018

Actual photo taken this morning

Last night was our last official raid night until next expansion, and I think we were all more than ready to end the season. We didn’t even do a full clear, just the first boss then skipped to the last two in order to get the mount for a couple of people who had not yet gotten it and still wanted it. It was not our best effort, nor was it our worst, it just — was. Notable only because it was the last for Legion. We have an active guild, and we will continue to do weekly alt raids and such, but they are really just for funsies, a chance to take some of our mothballed alts out and check out how badly we stink on them, as well as engage in some mostly well-intentioned trash talk.

Now, of course, everyone will have to decide how to fill game time until what will likely be the end of the summer, possibly even as late as the end of September. Some will decide to take a break from all gaming and unsub for a few months, some will cut back on their hours played, some will move to other games, some will keep at it pretty much as they have been. Already we have quite a few who have jumped to other games like Final Fantasy and HotS.

I will probably do a combination of things. I usually like having some time to concentrate on alts, and Legion is no exception. But probably for the first time in my WoW experience, I am genuinely tired of my hunter. I really feel like Blizz has sucked all the fun out of my spec, left it with only a grim routine of mashing buttons on cooldown and once in a while throwing out a cc. This thought resonated with me when I was playing my mage over the weekend — I was getting a real kick out of the chained procs and deciding how best to employ them. There is just nothing to compare with that for BM hunter. (And so far it does not seem Blizz has any interest in improving the spec for BfA — they have remained almost completely silent on any planned changes, beyond the iffy new pet abilities, that would add interest to it.) Yes, I still have an emotional attachment to the hunter class, and it seems unlikely I will ever main another class, but after a year and a half of mind-numbingly boring play, I am ready for something with a little more pizzazz. At least for a few months.

I know one thing I will not do, and that is level up another character. If I decide to roll another of the allied races, I will definitely use my boost on it. Leveling is another of those game things Blizz has ruined for me.

I will happily cut back on my game hours played, enjoying the mental freedom that comes from not having to gear up a main for raiding. And when logged in, I will do things like pick herbs or futz around with some underdeveloped professions, do some transmogging, knock out a few of the achievements I am interested in, maybe explore some other servers. I am truly looking forward to having nothing pressing to do in the game. (I just wish I could have this free attitude all the time in the game. My own mental prison, I suppose…)

Before Legion I did try my hand at a couple of other MMOs (Final Fantasy XIV, Elder Scrolls Online, and even Wildstar 🤫.) For some reason they did not engage me the way WoW always has, and I ended up dropping them after a couple of months. Certainly I did not get to whatever constituted end game play for them, and that might have colored my impressions, but I just could not get immersed in them. (And yes, I am hampered by the fact that I am a Mac user and I do not want to use Boot Camp, don’t judge!) I am much more likely to play non-MMOs like one of the Civs or Master of Orion or even Sims.

Anyway, it is spring, all evidence to the contrary, and summer is not far behind. I intend to enjoy a long lazy game summer doing whatever the hell I want, leaving behind the (self-induced) pressure to grind for AP and legendaries and other gear and rep and class hall quest lines, and any of the long list of grinds Legion thrust upon us.

Now if you will pardon me, I have to go shovel some “spring” from my driveway.

Overcoming mage phobia

Those of you faithful readers that have followed this blog for a while now are probably aware of my love-hate relationship with the mage class. I rolled a mage as my second character years ago, mainly because I had a friend who swore it was the best class in the game. At the time he played what he called a frostfire mage, where he selected a complex set of fire and frost talents and touted it as the most powerful damage dealer that could be configured. I am not so sure about that, but I was sufficiently impressed to roll a mage when I decided one lonely hunter was not enough for me.

It was a disaster. For some reason I did not grasp the nuances of playing a caster, tried to power through everything the same way I did my hunter, and as a result died. A lot. As I am stubborn, I hung in there for a long time, though, and dutifully leveled her up every expansion, selecting whichever spec seemed best at the time, and of course cursing the class every step of the way.

Then finally late in WoD I deleted her. It is remotely possible alcohol played a role in the decision, but in a fit of pique I concluded I was never going to learn how to play the class, so why continue to torture myself. Stupid mages! DELETE CHARACTER.

Of course within a week I regretted the decision.

So I rolled a new one. I leveled her (a chubby little Panda mage) as fire, simply because I think fire mages have some of the best visuals in the game. To my surprise, the spec is quite mobile and I actually began to have fun with her. So when the allied races became available, in a fit of overconfidence, I decided to level a void elf arcane mage.

It has been a tough process, but I think something finally clicked for me over the weekend, because I started to feel not only confident in the play style, but also quite powerful. At level 110 and ilevel somewhere around 910, things began to come together. I no longer run out of mana after what seems like 4-5 casts, I can rather easily take on 3-4 mobs at a time, and I am no longer hesitant to engage mini-bosses in world quests by myself.

And it is fun. Who woulda thunk?

I am guessing a confluence of factors is at play here. Getting my gear to a respectable ilevel means more mastery, which in turn means better mana regeneration. This, along with more haste to slightly speed up casting times, has been a big quality of life improvement for me. It is still annoying, though, to have no reliable instant cast (if Presence of Mind is on cooldown) to preclude butthole horde from tag-stealing every mob in the area, or if other players are downing mobs faster than my shortest cast time.

In addition to gear helping, I am — finally, after all these years — learning to use the spec’s abilities instead of fighting them. I know that sounds basic, but I have had a real mind block on this. I am finding the Blink-Displacement-Blink combos to be pretty powerful, more so than a hunter’s Disengage in my opinion. And getting multiple Arcane Missiles procs in a row is super fun, there is just nothing in the BM hunter rotation to compare with that.

There is a lot — a lot — I still have to learn, of course. I really stink at any kind of AoE, and I am nowhere near close to being able to rapidly select the best talents for a given fight. (It does seem to me that this spec is annoyingly dependent on switching out talents in order to be effective in specific fights — possibly more so than most other classes and specs.) I have yet to do a successful Spellsteal (I think I will require an addon for that). I do not know how to use Rune of Power. And of course I am still a real novice at maintaining and using mana and arcane charges properly. But at least now I am interested in learning, which for me is a big step forward.

A mage will probably never become a main for me, and I expect LFR will be the extent of raid endeavors for this alt. But it is a nice diversion now that there is very little progression left for my main in this expansion. Not to mention, my void elf has some hawt transmogs!

All you great mages out there, stop rolling your eyes, this is a really big accomplishment for me! I think I can safely say I have finally conquered my mage phobia.

This is my happy mage dance.